Knowledge by Abidan Shah, PhD

KNOWLEDGE by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction:  Many of you have asked me about how my paper went last week. It went very well. It had a great response, and one editor has already offered to publish it on a major site. There was also a bible translator in the audience who told me that they will seriously consider it at their next meeting. So, it’s wonderful to see what God is doing through our little church! I couldn’t have done it without your encouragement and prayers. Thank you! For those of you who are here for the first time, I was at the Evangelical Theological Society’s annual meeting in San Antonio last week, where I read a paper on the longer reading in the Greek text of Ephesians 5:30. Today, we will shift gears, in light of Christmas, and begin a new series titled “KING ETERNAL.” This is still part of our series on apologetics. Main point: Those outside of the people of God were not as clueless about God and his plan of salvation as we often assume. Many rejected but some chose to believe and left a witness in their records. In time, the witness was lost, and darkness came over the world, until Jesus came. Once again, light shone, and it is still shining, and it is our job to keep shining the light of the gospel in our world.

Acts 17       22 Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; 23 for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you:”

Context: In the video we just watched, I am standing on Mars Hill or Areopagus where Paul gave his famous sermon in Acts 17. I have been there before, and it is so mind blowing to me that the Apostle Paul stood on that very hill about 2000 years ago! To give a little context, he had just escaped from Berea where the Jewish people from Thessalonica had come after him, probably trying to kill him. So, they got him on a ship and sent him off to Athens. While he was waiting on Silas and Timothy to join him in Athens, Paul decided to take a tour of the city, especially the Acropolis. By the way, the Acropolis was also known as Cecropia in ancient times, after the first Athenian king Cecrops, who was half man and half serpent. On the Acropolis are 4 major buildings: the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, the Propylaea, and the Temple of Athena Nike. Maybe he also walked around the agora, the marketplace, which we didn’t visit the last time, but I have been there before. It has statue after statue of gods and goddesses and heroes of Greek history. Listen to what happens to him as he is seeing all this paganism: Acts 17:16 “Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols.” The Greek word for provoked is “paroxuno,” which can be translated as provoked, stirred, greatly upset, deeply distressed, outraged, exasperated, even angry! In response to that, he didn’t sit quiet, but he began to speak to the people. He began to speak to the Jewish people and the gentile worshippers in the synagogue and the marketplace. He even got the attention of some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. So, they brought him to the Areopagus, where a council of 12 judges met to decide cases. 

Let me pause here for a moment: How do you respond to the lostness of people around you? When you see people destroying their lives or when you see a family member making bad decisions or when you see a co-worker doing whatever makes them happy with no regard to what God wants for them, are you “paroxuno,” provoked, stirred, upset, distressed? I have to ask myself that same question – “Am I bothered by the things that bother God?” Don’t let your theology get in the way of your evangelism.

We don’t have the time to look at the entire sermon of Paul on the Areopagus. We’re just going to focus on the meaning of the “UNKNOWN GOD.” What did Paul mean when he said, “the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you?” As you may know, the Greeks had many gods and goddesses (Primordial gods, Titan gods, and Olympian gods – Zeus, Poseidon, Hermes, Apollo, Hera, Aphrodite), with their soap operas and escapades. But, deep in their psyche, they knew that there was only one God, and he was truly the one in control. Unfortunately, by the time of Paul, much of that true knowledge had been corrupted and suppressed. Let me back up a little here. Listen to Hesiod (8th century BC) in his poem Theogony: “First of all the Void (Chaos) came into being … next Earth (Gaia) …Out of the Void came darkness (Tartarus) …and out of the Night came Light (Aether) and Day (Hemera)…” What does that remind you of? Genesis 1       1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. Hesiod did not get his information from the book of Genesis. He was not necessarily a believer in God if you read his writings about the Creator. So also, Homer (8th century BC) in his Iliad and Odyssey had all kinds of stories of various gods and goddesses and their escapades. But now listen to Xenophanes (5th century BC): “Homer and Hesiod attributed to the gods all the things which among men are shameful and blameworthy – theft and adultery and mutual deception…there is one God, greatest among gods and men, similar to mortals neither in shape nor in thought…he sees as a whole, he thinks as a whole, he hears as a whole…Always he remains in the same state, changing not at all…but far from toil he governs everything with his mind.” What is very interesting is that he does not call this god Zeus or Ares or Apollo or any of that. Similar words were also written by Plato (5th century): “Let us therefore state the reason why the framer of this universe framed it at all. He was good, and what is good has no particle of envy in it; being therefore without envy, he wished all things to be as like himself as possible. This is as valid a principle for the origin of the world of change as we shall discover from the wisdom of men…” What does Genesis say at the end of each day of creation? “And God saw that it was good.” 

What is very interesting is that the idea of atheism was not as common in ancient times as we might think? Even the Bible gives only one half of one verse to the atheist – Psalm 14:1 (Also Psalm 53:1) “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” In other words, in the ancient world, only a fool would go around claiming that there was no God. Even, Thales of Miletus (6th century BC), a materialist philosopher said: “Of existing things, God is the oldest – for he is ungenerated – the world is the most beautiful, for it is God’s creation – mind is the swiftest, for it runs through everything.” In time, the idea that we came from someone other than God came into the Greek world. Listen to Anaximander (6th – 5th century BC): “originally, humans were born from animals of a different kind.” I won’t say that he was the first. He probably got it from someone before him. Evolution did not begin with Darwin! Plato calls such statements bad that give credit to nature, art, or chance, saying that it “must be the ruin of the younger generation, both in state at large and in private families.” So also, Aristotle (4th century) tried to find some middle ground between what Plato said and those who were denying God. Then came the Epicureans (from Epicurus – 4th century BC) who were materialists and didn’t believe in the afterlife. The universe was accidental, and it was all about pleasure in the here and now. The Stoics (from Zeno – 4th – 3rd century BC) tried to oppose their views. They believed that the universe was fundamentally rational, but they were more fatalistic. Listen to Chrysippus (3rd century BC): “If there is anything in nature which the human mind, which human intelligence, energy and power could not create, then the creator of such things must be a being superior to man. But the heavenly bodies in their eternal orbits could not be created by man. They must therefore be created by a being greater than man …Only an arrogant fool would imagine that there was nothing in the whole world greater than himself. Therefore there must be something greater than man. And that something must be God.” Cicero (1st century BC), somewhat of a stoic, said: “In the heavens there is nothing accidental, nothing arbitrary, nothing out of order, nothing erratic. Everywhere is order, truth, reason, constancy …I cannot understand this regularity in the stars, this harmony of time and motion in their various orbits through all eternity, except as the expression of reason, mind and purpose …Their constant and eternal motion, wonderful and mysterious in its regularity, declares the indwelling power of a divine intelligence. If any man cannot feel the power of God when he looks upon the stars, then I doubt whether he is capable of any feeling.”

I can go on and on. Yes, paganism with the worship of countless gods and goddesses was dominant in the ancient world. Yes, atheism began to creep in and take hold of their thinking, even the theory of evolution was there. Yes, just as Paul described in Romans 1 God gave them over to uncleanness, sexual perversion, and a debased mind. Having said that, it is false to think that people in ancient times didn’t believe in a one God who made everything. Paul saw that, and he used it as his starting point to witness to them. He did what Israel was supposed to do all along – Be a light unto the Gentiles. Isaiah 49:6Indeed He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, And to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ”

The faithful of the Jewish people knew that. Luke 2      28 he (Simeon) took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said: 29 “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, According to Your word; 30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation 31 Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, 32 A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.”

This was fulfilled by Jesus as he began his ministry – Matthew 4       12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee…This was to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 9 – 15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: 16 The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.”

Listen carefully: Knowledge of God and a belief that he exists and that he made everything does not equate salvation. It’s only those who accept his Son Jesus as Savior and King are truly saved. God is not looking for RELIGION but a RELATIONSHIP with him.

This is where America is today. Many are confused by evolution, and some are flirting with atheism, but most people believe in God. That does not mean they are saved. There is no second chance on the other side, no latch on the inside of hell that you can open and get out, although the chances are low. No universalism or inclusivism will work. Remember Acts 17:31 “He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” There is one life, one death, and one judgment. Only Jesus can save you. This should motivate us to share the gospel with the lost.

People have questions: How about all those in the deepest jungles in Africa or in the urban hutments of India? I don’t have time to get into that today. All I will say is this – I grew up there and I’ve seen in firsthand. Just like here, everyone counts the cost, and they choose the love of this world, family, and friends over further knowledge of salvation. That’s been the case before Christ came and since Christ came.

Application: Knowledge of God is not enough. Truth of Jesus is needed. Do you know him? Are you shining his light?

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